All work and no play makes Jack (and Melanie) a dull boy, so we took off last weekend for a trip to Washington DC in celebration of the start of Spring Break at WVU. We’ll be doing the more traditional break activities (wet T shirt contest, Jello body shots, balcony surfing) at home on the deck in the woods where only the deer, turkeys, and other such critters can laugh at us.
Our day on the Mall found cool temperatures and low clouds. We were expecting the Cherry Blossom Festival and instead we got a grey day with light rain. It makes for fast walking, but interesting pictures of the Washington Monument.
If you’re familiar with DC and the Mall you can tell that we took the Metro to the Smithsonian stop. I love this part of the Mall because of the Freer Gallery. They hang one of John Singer Sargent’s most compelling oils, “Breakfast in the Loggia.” Light traffic in the museum gave me 15 minutes of uninterrupted viewing, just leaning against the opposite wall.
Of course, the Freer has an excellent collection of Whistler’s work. I like most of his work for different reasons. The symphony in white series is lovely beyond my words. The image here doesn’t do justice to the brushstrokes in this particular work. If you ever get to Washington DC and you like paintings, you must visit the Freer just so you can see how the brushstrokes create the effects.
And, then, there’s the Peacock room. The only reason I’d like to have a LOT of money is to create rooms like this for myself and Melanie. That, and a private jet and a chaffeur. Otherwise, we’re still living in the woods, scaring the critters with our silly Spring Break games.
The Freer is also featuring a ceramics exhibition, “Parade,” as designed by Gwyn Hansson Pigott. I am not a ceramics and pottery kind of guy and usually I think of them as pretty ashtrays (yes, I am a clod and if it didn’t kill you, I’d still be chain smoking Lucky filterless cigarettes), but this exhibition struck me like a slap in the face. Normally museums display vases, pottery, ceramics, etc. with a fairly staid, educational method and a long print description of the materials, technique, period, artist, yada-yada, kill me now, Lord, where’s an empty chair I can use? Pigott’s Parade, however, is an installation performance of art using ceramic objects. She is an active ceramic artist herself and was given free access to the Freer’s collection of such objects mainly from Asia, but also the Near East. Pigott selected pieces, then created artistic arrangements of them. These photos cannot do justice to the display. For the first time in my long life of looking at art, ceramics hit me in the asthetic guts. Gwyn Hansson Pigott’s Parade is simply one of the most beautiful and compelling works of “installation” art I’ve ever seen.
Outside the Smithsonian buildings is another kind of art, the gardens. Late March is still a bit early for the full performance, but even this early in spring, the gardens are lovely and blooming. These shots were taken after one of our favorite activities, eating. We’d found a “meals on wheels” stand behind the Smithsonian gardens. Hmmmm, hot dogs.
Here’s a shot of Melanie on our first afternoon. We’re eating at Raku’s noodle shop, just across from our hotel, Jury’s (if you look behind Melanie’s left shoulder you might be able to make out the logo on the building). I found out about Jury’s from my work with the Brookings Institution. It’s the hotel they use for their guests. The hotel is right on Dupont Circle which is a fabulous DC neighborhood. Lots of shopping, lots of book stores, and some great food and drink. Like this shot.
Me and my martini with three really big and tasty green olives. I don’t want to sound extreme, but Jury’s bar serves some of the best olives I’ve ever had in a vodka martini. Sometimes big green olives are a bit rough and chewy, but these were like chocolate. Vodka News: my nephew, Clif, who is a professional chef, recommended that I try Svedka vodka. I did. If you like vodka, give it a try. It has that smooth taste, feel, and bite of a premium brand like Grey Goose, but costs only one third as much. Back to the entertainment.
Obelisk is the best restaurant in Washington DC and maybe the best in the US. I hesitate to tell anyone about it because it is a small room and can be a tough reservation.
The chef clearly is not interested in getting big because this place has been around for awhile now and it is the same this time as it was the first time we ate there 10 or 15 years ago. This shot gives you some sense of how small the place is (36 seats).
We had a bottle of Chianti, a great 5 course appetizer round, a fabulous raviolini secondi, and an outstanding sea bass for the entre, all followed by a tangerine cake and fruit with a sabayon sauce. But the real treat was a burrata cheese appetizer. They’ve been doing this one for a couple of years now and I hope they never stop serving it. You can read more about this new, modern Italian cheese, but you’d really rather eat it. Burrata is a bit like buffalo mozz cheese, only better, if you can believe that.
But, the best reason to visit Washington DC is what it means. Everytime I visit the Mall I feel proud to be an American. One of my favorite views of the Mall is from the stairs of the Capitol looking down to the Washington Monument. When I had my first trip to DC after becoming an administrator at NIOSH/CDC, I remember standing on those stairs and feeling differently than previous trips. I felt a sense of responsibility and commitment. I also remember standing on those stairs shortly after September 11, 2001 when I was called to DC on “lessons learned” planning. The Mall was very quiet and nearly empty even though it was a lovely Fall day. The sense of responsibility and commitment was even stronger then. And even though today was a cool, misty day, the Mall was crowded with people and families. And there was a demonstration at the Pool across from the Capitol with people shouting through a loudspeaker in many different languages . . . America is a helluva thing.
God bless America.